If you are a startup founder, or working for a startup, chances are that you’ve encountered one of the biggest challenges keeping startups from their desired growth and development trajectories – the difficulty of bringing in new talent. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that as a startup, you’re rarely bargaining from a position of power – at least before you can show significant revenue or sizeable outside backing. You might not be able to afford the kind of comp that bigger companies on the block offer, nor the job security, nor the ‘brand logo on their resume’. Whereas people line up to work for the established players, as a startup, you’ll likely have to start knocking on proverbial doors yourself. Therefore, it’s good to know where to find talent for a startup. 

In our experience, startups usually tend to knock on fairly similar doors, and we’ll go through some of them below. 

1. Finding talent via networks

Similar to raising money, the first platform for finding talent for startups is usually the “Three F’s”: friends, family and fools. While some hire family, and some hires unavoidably turn out to be fools too, the easiest first option tends to be to start looking amongst your friends and friends of friends. And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that, you have to start somewhere! But as things grow, people usually notice that the network dries up rather quickly. Therefore, it isn’t really a viable strategy past the first handful of employees. 

Once past the initial stages, however, networks can still provide value. Instead of solely relying on the founders’ networks, startups can try to leverage their employees’ connections too. For instance, soliciting referrals from team members might at least a provide a list of people to go after. In some cases, it might provide direct introductions too. But whenever personal connections are involved, it’s good to make sure the startup makes its hiring decisions objectively.

2.Using job platforms to find talent for your startup

Many early teams also try to find talent for a startup by signing up for various job platforms. While this is a surefire way to get applications from outside your personal network, many startups find themselves disappointed with the quality of applications. On the other hand, the quantity might surprise. In other words, posting jobs on big public search platforms might yield a lot of applications that are hardly even worth the time one of the team members has to spend trashing them. 

When trying to find talent as a startup, it’s probably a good idea to focus on niche platforms geared towards startups, such as AngelList. This might help to bring up the quality of applications a bit. With startup-focused platforms, it’s also likely that the talent on the platform is specifically looking for startup opportunities. This might increase the chances of the candidates being suitable ones.

3.Engaging recruiters

Finding new talent can be difficult, and it’s quite common for startups to also engage with recruiters. Since recruiting is a very time-consuming process, many founders are happy to outsource the time investment. Engaging a recruiter generally frees you from the process of going through applications and conducting screening interviews. Rather, a recruiter might produce you a list of potential candidates, and you can choose who to talk to. 

However, it’s always good to acknowledge that in many cases there’s a bit of principal-agency problem to take into account. It’s likely that the recruiter’s interest is different from the founders’. Whereas the founder is interested in bringing in the best possible candidate, a recruiter might be looking to just make any placement and collect their fee. Therefore, it’s good to understand the recruiter(s) you choose to work with and how you can make the relationship frictionless. For instance, in the case of Startuplifers, we’ve found that our status as a non-profit organization helps to align interests with the startups working with us. 

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